WAUWATOSA, Wisconsin. – In the backyard of his home in Wauwatosa, Michael Schultz shows an appreciation for the little things. It includes patio furniture to entertain friends, a smoker to feed them, and reserved weed for playing ball with his son, Reed.
Space has provided so many memories that have grown even sweeter over the past eight months with the benefit of perspective. Schultz was diagnosed with COVID-19 on December 30, was forced on life support for 60 days and is still recovering from his battle in hospital.
That morning, Southeastern Wisconsin woke up to a blanket of snow, so Schultz turned on his snowblower to clear the driveway.
He also went to clean his neighbor’s driveway, but this extra work seemed more difficult than usual.
âI just felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest,â Schultz said.
Schultz told his wife, Michelle, and the two agreed he needed to get tested. When the results came back positive, he isolated himself in the basement, away from Michelle and Reed to protect them from infection.
“We would deliver meals to him and say, ‘OK, stay away. âAnd he just did his thing there, and we would check it periodically,â Michelle said.
In the first few days of isolation, Schultz admitted his symptoms weren’t much different from a cold. He texted friends to pass the time.
A week later, on January 6, Michelle noticed that her husband had slept most of the day. After conversations with friends, she struggled to get off to make sure he was okay, hoping the rest would help fend off the virus.
Finally, she walked down to watch him.
“I went over there, and I was trying to be really calm again, ‘Hey, wake up.’ And then he was making a really funny breathing noise, and I was like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound good,’ “Michelle said. “I was like, ‘Mike! Mike!’ And he wasn’t responding. “
Michelle dialed 911. Paramedics rushed in, quickly determining that Schultz needed emergency care.
This sparked a quick chat about which hospital to go to.
âMichelle said, ‘Well he can’t go to Froedtert. They’re not in our network,’â Schultz said. “And the response from the paramedics was basically, ‘Well, if he’s got to live, he’s going to go to Froedtert.'”
Michelle opted for Froedtert, and this decision will save her life.
Dr Buck Durham is the Director of Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. His team looked after Schultz when he was admitted.
âWe did an echocardiogram to look at his heart very quickly, and it showed that his right heart was really not working very well,â said Durham.
Schultz had right heart failure, pneumonia, brain hemorrhage and more, so Durham put Schultz on an ECMO resuscitation system.
Designed by Chicago-based Abbott, the CentriMag Acute Circulatory Support system allowed doctors to pump blood out of Schultz’s body, remove carbon dioxide, and re-inject it with oxygen.
âWe were able to take over the function of his right heart and his lungs at the same time, which allowed us to unload the right heart and completely oxygenate it,â said Durham.
Schultz was on ECMO for 60 days, until he was released from the intensive care unit to a standing ovation from doctors, nurses and more in March.
He had to relearn to walk, to speak and to regain his strength. His therapy was driven by a love for baseball – and a shared bond with Reed.
Schultz is the head coach of his son’s team, the 11U Tosa West Junior Trojans, and I didn’t want to miss the season.
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“Every day was my goal. I don’t miss this game. He doesn’t play a game without me – these boys aren’t,” said Schultz.
His nurses were showing him videos of players doing pre-season drills, wishes from friends and family, and more to get him into therapy.
Schultz has expressed his goal of being released from hospital before the Junior Trojans’ first game on April 16. He returned home on April 10, but was not yet able to train.
At the hospital, her left vocal cord was paralyzed during operations, which weakened her voice. He is now in and out of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy during the week. Doctors say the strength in her voice could return in about a year.
On top of that, Schultz’s lungs are now functioning at around 55% of their normal function.
In the spring, he regained his strength to be able to find what he loves: training Reed and the Junior Trojans. He reprized his role over Father’s Day weekend, leading the team to a 2-2 record in a local tournament just three months after being taken out of the resuscitation system.
But being back in the shelter with friends and players who are like family, living and breathing baseball is as good medicine as any.
âThere were days in the hospital where I didn’t think it would be possible. Being back there now, being a little so far away from those days, just lets me know how much I have. luck, âsaid Schultz. “Not just being alive, but being back doing something that I love to do.”